The U.S. Airforce will allow a Sikh Airman to wear his turban, beard, and unshorn hair in compliance with his faith while he serves. Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted a religious accommodation to practice and adhere to the grooming and dress principles of the Sikh religion, reports SALDEF.
“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” Bajwa said. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”
Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa joined the Air Force in 2017. The first generation son of Immigrant parents, he was eager to give back to his country. The Air Force requires it’s soldiers to cut their hair and shave their face. This went against Bajwa’s religious beliefs that state the importance of hair. A follower must let his hair grow because it is a gift from God.
Bajwa sought out help from the Sikh American Veterans Alliance(SAVA) after he learned of religious accommodations. He learned that a Muslim JAG Corps officer, Capt Maysaa Ouza, was granted permission to wear a hijab. Additionally, exemptions were granted to Sikhs soldiers in the Army.
SAVA and the ACLU worked together to help Bajwa get his religious exemption. He makes history as the first Airman to wear a turban while serving in the U.S. Airforce. Bajwa is stationed at the McChord Air Force base near Lakewood, Washington, where he serves as a crew chief.
“It was important for him to be able to maintain that Sikh identity as well as his identity as a soldier,” Kamal Kalsi, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and founder of SAVA, told the Washington Post. “The turban and beard are an important part of a Sikh’s identity. The turban is a crown.”
The senior attorney for the ACLU, Heather L. Weaver, said, “No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country. We’re pleased that the Air Force granted our client’s request, and we hope that all branches of the military come to recognize the importance of religious inclusion and diversity.”
According to the Washington Post, the Air Force confirmed the decision. The spokesperson for the Air Force, Major Nicholas J. Mercurio, said, “The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”